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Lifestyle Guides

What to consider when buying a car online

Before the Covid-19 pandemic buying a car online was a fast-moving trend, now it's the new normal for many motorists.

car-on-laptop-keypad

A recent survey for Car Dealer magazine by What Car? revealed a fifth of car buyers think online sales will overtake those made in car dealerships by 2025.

There's no doubt that the lockdowns of 2020/21 have accelerated this transition to online car buying. With forecourts closed for much of the time, car buyers had no option.

However, the same research shows there is space for traditional dealerships too - a third of car buyers think online car sales will never catch on.

Click and buy

Whether you're buying new or used, there are an increasing number of options when it comes to "virtual" car shopping.

Citroen, Dacia, Hyundai, Mitsubishi, Peugeot, Polestar, Vauxhall and Volvo are among the car makers that let you buy new vehicles remotely via their websites.

If you’re looking for a second-hand car, fast-growing online dealerships include Cazoo, BuyaCar and cinch. There are also websites/apps that connect buyers directly with dealers (many operating virtually), including Auto Trader, heycar, YesAuto and AA Cars.

Policies vary across companies, but buying a car online has several advantages:

  • Shop from the comfort of your sofa in your own time
  • No pressure from salespeople
  • Streamlined buying process
  • No haggling (you pay the ticket price)
  • Car delivered to your door, or via a click and collect service
  • Bigger selection of cars than a physical dealership 
  • 14-day cancelation policy

However, there are also disadvantages of buying a car online:

  • No test drive means you can't see, feel, and physically inspect the car 
  • Prices are fixed - you can't haggle the price down
  • Used cars at online dealerships tend to be more expensive (e.g. they are newer with low mileages) 
  • You may not get such a good price when trading in your existing car

Top 10 online car buying tips

  1. Don’t let your heart rule your head. Stick to your budget.
  2. Consider the total cost of motoring. Check everything from fuel economy to insurance costs.
  3. If buying used, get a feel for the value of the car you’re planning to purchase by looking at similar cars on sites such as Auto Trader.
  4. Check out the dealership, website or company you are buying from - just as you would with any other major purchase. For instance, read reviews online from genuine customers.
  5. If possible, test drive a similar car at another dealership. If the online dealer has premises and you test the actual car, it will affect your consumer rights (see below).
  6. Check the free warranty period when buying a used car - the longer the better. New cars will have the same warranty whether you buy in person or online (usually between 3-7 years). 
  7. You may find a better deal shopping around for your own car finance. Did you know Admiral offer Car Finance? Find out more here before heading online to buy a car.
  8. Find a company that delivers for free or allows you to “click and collect”. If you choose the latter option, check it does not affect your consumer rights (see below).
  9. Choose a used car online dealership that offers a money back guarantee if you are not happy with your purchase (usually up to 14 days).
  10. Make sure the car will be collected for free if you decide it is not for you.

Your consumer rights

The good news is that you benefit from more legal protection when you buy a car online than if you walk into a showroom and buy the exact same vehicle. 

You are covered by the Consumer Contracts Regulations 2013, which means you have the right to cancel from the moment an order is placed until 14 days after taking delivery of the car. 

However, if you visit the retailer’s premises at any time during the sales process (eg to test drive the car or sign paperwork), this no longer counts as a distance sale. Therefore, you won’t have a cancellation period and the usual consumer rights apply (see below).

Before opting for “click and collect”, check with the dealership that they still class this as a distance sale.

Whatever happens, you also have some statutory rights under the Consumer Rights Act 2015 – just as you would if “physically” buying a new or used vehicle from a dealer (e.g. if you experience problems with the car after taking delivery).
 

I'm an experienced journalist, digital editor and copywriter, now specialising in motoring. I’m editor of Automotive Blog and have worked across the media in newspapers, magazines, TV, teletext, radio and online for household names including the BBC, GMTV, ITV and MSN. I’ve produced digital content in the financial sector for Lloyds Bank, Nationwide and the Money Advice Service. I'm married with two children and live near Bath in Somerset.

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